Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Long Term Test: 2015 Jaguar F-Type V6 post #4

Update #4
Mileage: 9,863

I finally got a chance to spend some quality time with the Jag and good lord is it a magnificent grand tourer. A car that is this wide and with visibility this poor can be nerve-wracking to drive. Thankfully, given the amazing weather here in Southern California, I am able to drop the top and alleviate the visibility issue, but even that doesn't make the big Jag feel narrower. Driving along the wide freeways of the Los Angeles area, the F-Type still seems to fill the lane and I am always wary of the other drivers around me. While this car starts to shrink down when pushed hard, at cruising speeds, there is no denying that it is a big car.

Of course, that sense of heft helps to improve the overall ride and comfort. At just over 3,800 lbs, the F-Type convertible is a weighty car. That translates into a surprisingly smooth ride, despite the rather stiff suspension. Combine that with the super adjustable seats and excellent seating position to make for a car that I can easily spend all day in, cruising at highway speed. The precise steering is not so jittery that it contributes to driver fatigue and the wind management with the top open allows for relatively turbulence free cruising. Even after several hour plus stints behind the wheel, I felt refreshed and relaxed.

Most impressive of all is that, despite the performance potential, high curb weight, and aerodynamic disadvantage of being a convertible, the F-Type was returning a shockingly spot on 29 mpg on the highway. That is cruising at just a touch over the speed limit and included a number of hard acceleration runs to get up to speed. Despite all the disadvantages stacked against it, the car more than delivered on its fuel economy potential, meaning a full tank of gas could easily deliver more than 400 miles of freeway cruising when there is no traffic. I know fuel economy is not usually a big selling point for cars in this class, but it is not every day you can have 340-hp and 29 real world mpg in the same two-seat convertible.

Stunning looks, great performance, excellent comfort, great fuel economy, and the aural escapades of one of the best sounding exhaust systems on a stock vehicle. Who could possibly not like this car?

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Editorial: Full Autonomy or Not, That is the Question...

Image courtesy of Engadget
Tesla has been in the news a lot lately, and not because the Model X is a runaway success, or the Model 3 is going to be the next best thing since sliced bread. Tesla has actually been in the news a lot lately due to the semi-autonomous driving capabilities of their cars. Dubbed "Autopilot" by Tesla, this mode will take over control of your vehicle much in the same way other manufacturers' Active Cruise Control and Lane Keep Assist works. By using a series of sensors at the front of the car, the Model S and Model X can now maintain cruising speed, distance, and lane without any driver input.

And therein lies the problem. Even though the system was designed to function without driver input, the legal mumbo jumbo you have to agree to in order to activate "Autopilot" specifically states that you should still pay attention to the road, your surroundings, and keep your hands on the steering wheel in case the system deactivates for any reasons. However, most videos you see of people using "Autopilot" show people doing reckless things, like filming vlogs, rather than keeping their eyes on the road. And so we get to a few of the high profile accidents that have occurred recently where either the driver or general public blames "Autopilot" for their accident.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Long Term Test: 2007 BMW K1200S post #7

Update #7
Mileage: 30,010

When people say BMW's are expensive to maintain, they certainly aren't kidding. This pretty much applies to both their motorcycles as well as their cars. While it has been a while since I have had to experience the bad taste of paying for repairs to a BMW, I did have to get maintenance completed on my K1200S earlier this year and the price tag was several times more than I anticipated, largely because of a few unexpected items.

First, the bike needed basic maintenance. That meant an oil change, inspection, and general check-up on electronic components. Typically, this costs around $150-$200. On top of that, I knew that the front tire was looking a little thin on tread after only 6,500 miles so I was expecting to need to replace that pretty soon. The low mileage is likely due to my tendency to ride with the preload set very high in the rear, resulting in greater wear on the front tire. It makes the bike handle better, but the trade-off is that the greater loading on the front tends to wear that tire down. Since I decided to go ahead and replace that tire, that added another $200+ to the tab for the tire plus the installation labor.

Brand new Michelin Pilot Road 4
front tire on the K1200S
However, within an hour or so of dropping my bike off at the dealer, they called and informed me that the rear brakes were worn and needed to be replaced while the battery was showing low voltage and needed to be replaced. That battery, which I had replaced just a few years ago, was apparently already out of warranty when the dealership in MA sold it to me. That dealership has a reputation for less than ethical treatment of customers so I suppose I should not be surprised when the Yelp reviews prove to be right. As for the brakes, the combination of linked brakes on this bike, where grabbing the front brake level also applies one of the rear caliper pistons, as well as my tendency to use the rear brake to stabilize the rear-end while doing low-speed lanesplitting, is the likely cause of the increased brake wear. The brake job was going to be another $300 while the battery added around $100 to the final bill.

With taxes and the cost of the rental bike, the total came to just under $1,000. What I save on gas and time with this bike likely gets made up with the increased maintenance costs. Fortunately, my enjoyment of the bike outweighs all of the cost factors and a few of the costs I can reduce by simply making minor adjustments in my riding habits.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Overseas Adventures: Transporation Culture in Taiwan

My grandfather turned 90 this year and my family decided that we were all long overdue for a trip to see him at his home in Taiwan. It has been some 15 years since I visited the tiny island where my parents grew up and I was born. My last trip was a two-week stay where I mostly spent time accompanying my grandparents on their early (4:30 AM kind of early) morning walks at the local athletic complex and visiting with a few aunts, uncles, and cousins. At the time, my views on transportation were still very much car-centric and going to Taiwan always meant an opportunity to experience some interesting cars that we will never see here in the US, mostly because we will likely never see a return of Renault or Peugeot to the American market. However, as my views on transportation have evolved with time, the things that caught my attention when I visited Taiwan this time were rather different.

For a tiny island that is smaller than alpine nation of Switzerland in geographic area, Taiwan houses a population not much smaller than that of the entire continent of Australia. Packed into dense coastal cities, including the capital city of Taipei, and filled with sub-tropical forests and mountainous terrain running through its center, Taiwan has a colorful history and faced a number of unique challenges to keep up with economic development in Asia. Once a bastion of semi-conductor manufacturing and design and still home to design and manufacture of many major mobile device and bicycle makers, Taiwan has proven itself capable of borrowing the best ideas from the countries around the world to help drive its transportation renaissance, leaving quite the impression on me during my recent travels.